Help Save Chattanooga and Chickamauga

A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President

** Fundraising has ended **

Dear Friend,

Jim LIghthizer I know you are very busy, but as a personal favor to me, will you please give me just one moment of your time?

There are three significant developments that I believe you will want to hear about, including how you can save crucial hallowed ground at two major battlefields that will create a $5.73-to-$1 match of any support you may care to send today.

First, will you help me save 30 absolutely key acres of hallowed ground at the Chickamauga battlefield, as crushing development threatens to overrun the remaining land at Reed’s Bridge, where this history-changing battle began?

Second, will you help me preserve the first 12 acres ever protected at the Battle of Brown’s Ferry in Chattanooga, the fight that opened the “Cracker Line” that saved the Army of the Cumberland from starvation?

And third, our good friend, historian and tour guide extraordinaire Ed Bearss has, on the eve of his 92nd birthday, been nominated to receive the Congressional Gold Medal for his role in saving America’s history. Will you please join me is helping to secure this well-deserved honor for the most important man in the history of battlefield preservation?

Let me tackle each one of these opportunities in order for you, to answer any questions you may have about them.

Reeds Bridge
Reed's Bridge.

Chickamauga - Reed's Bridge

If you and I can save the 30 acres at Reed’s Bridge, we will accomplish three things:

1) We will build upon and further protect the land Trust members saved there in late 2013. 
2) You and I will be just barely one step ahead of the developers, who – as you can see from the satellite map I have included along with your Civil War Trust battle Map – are blanketing this area with shopping malls and residential subdivisions.
3) We will, of course, be saving even more of the crucial land where the second costliest and bloodiest battle of the Civil War began.

Ed Bearss himself told me that “the action at Reed’s Bridge decided when and where the Battle of Chickamauga — one of the major battles of the Civil War — would be fought.”

Historian David Powell, graduate of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and author of The Maps of Chickamauga says that the land at Reed’s Bridge “is the very ground where the battle began. Robert Minty’s Federal Cavalry held off Bushrod Johnson’s and Nathan Bedford Forrest’s rebels for several hours, in both mounted and dismounted action. This ground is akin to saving McPherson’s Ridge at Gettysburg, in terms of its relationship to the battle.”

Minty’s dismounted cavalrymen, defending the crossing at Reed’s Bridge, forced Johnson’s four brigades into line of battle. After sharp fighting, the weight of the Confederate attack forced Minty to fall back, and it became a footrace for the possession of the bridge.

Minty’s troopers worked frantically to rip up the planks, but as historian Peter Cozzens describes the scene, “the Twenty-third Tennessee raised the Rebel yell, and made a dash for the bridge. Shots rang out. Five Tennesseans crumpled around the bridge, including the color bearer, but the rest pushed across it. It was 3:00pm when the first Rebel set foot on the west bank of Chickamauga Creek.”

However, Minty had bought Union General William S. Rosecrans just enough time to better consolidate his forces.

The central fact that you can never forget: Ultimately, the Battle of Chickamauga was fought when and where it was because of what happened at Reed’s Bridge.

More than 17 years ago, even before I was president of the Civil War Trust, I visited Chickamauga and met with Chief Historian Jim Ogden to discuss preservation at Chickamauga/ Chattanooga National Military Park. Even then, Reed’s Bridge was identified as “the number one acquisition priority.”

Chickamauga Battlefield tours have started at Reed’s Bridge ever since the battle ended, but the land has been in private ownership that whole time, difficult and often unsafe to access (trashed with broken glass and used hypodermic needles, etc.), and nearly impossible to interpret.

You and your fellow Civil War Trust members saved much of this crucial land in 2013. Today, we can save even more of this hallowed ground – 30 acres – that fully protects what we have already saved, builds upon that wonderful success, and saves the land before the developers can destroy it! I hope you see just how important this is.

Of course, what happened at Chickamauga set the stage for what happened at the 12 acres we can save today at Brown’s Ferry, in Chattanooga.

Brown's Ferry
From this view at Lookout Point, Brown's Ferry is on the right side of the river, just beyond the first bend. (Rob Shenk)

Chattanooga - Brown's Ferry

After its defeat at Chickamauga, Rosecrans’ 40,000-man Union army was trapped and besieged in Chattanooga. His supplies dwindled. Just one fragile supply route kept the Union men barely alive. The journey was so treacherous for cattle that they arrived in such poor condition as to be derisively called “beef dried on the hoof.”

So the Battle of Brown's Ferry, October 27, 1863, was fought for one reason: Food. General George Thomas, the "Rock of Chickamauga" who was appointed by Ulysses S. Grant to replace Rosecrans, approved a bold plan to open a more direct supply line. Men would use bridge pontoons to float past the Rebel guards on Lookout Mountain and along the banks of the Tennessee River, putting in at Brown's Ferry on the west side of the river. Additional men would cross the river after the landing as support.

In the pre-dawn hours, Union troops boarded 52 pontoons and rode the swift current of the Tennessee River around Moccasin Bend, past Confederate pickets both on Lookout Mountain and along the river. Landing at Brown’s Ferry, they drove back the Confederate forces in sharp fighting.

The famous "Cracker Line" was open. Over the next month, the pontoon bridge built by Union engineers would see a nearly uninterrupted line of men, food and supplies, which led directly to the Union’s November victories on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.

No part of the battlefield at Brown’s Ferry has ever been saved before, despite the staggering importance of this action on the overall Chickamauga – Chattanooga campaign.

Today, you and I have the chance to save a critical piece of our country’s history before it is developed and lost forever.

By now, I hope you are saying, “O.K., Jim, I’m sold on these pieces of battlefield land. How much will this cost, and are there any matching funds to help pay for them?"

Answer: Absolutely! Today, these 42 acres have a value of $691,000. But you and I can save this land for just $120,500! That’s a $5.73-to-$1 match of your donation dollar!

Thanks to matching grant of $345,000 from the federal American Battlefield Protection Program, a grant we are applying for from a foundation in Chattanooga, an anticipated grant from the state of Tennessee, plus additional major gifts from other committed donors and local organizations…

… I am confident in telling you that we have $565,500 in matching funds lined up and ready to go – which gives us fully 83% of the total funds needed.

If you and I can raise the final 17% -- just $120,500 – to leverage and unlock this needed matching money, we will save this absolutely crucial unprotected ground before it is lost forever.

Ed Bearss
Ed Bearss leading a tour.

Ed Bearss - Congressional Gold Medal

The final favor I will ask of you today costs you nothing, other than the time it takes for you to sign your name.

Legendary historian, author, U.S. Marine and World War II hero, and my personal friend, Ed Bearss, has been nominated in a special bill introduced by Virginia Representative Gerry Connolly (and supported by more than 100 co-sponsors) to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, one of America’s highest civilian honors.

Perhaps you remember Ed’s commentary in the Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary… perhaps you have been privileged to be with him on one of the hundreds of battlefields tours he gives every year… or to have read one of his many books or articles.

Ed is not only a genuine American hero (wounded in the Pacific during World War II, where he “learned firsthand the importance of terrain to telling the story of a battlefield”), he is also the most important person in the history of the battlefield preservation movement. He advises us regularly on the most important pieces of land that we still have to save.

His legendary energy (even at nearly 92 years of age) and encyclopedic knowledge of the War have played a major role in identifying and securing nearly every one of the 41,000+ acres of hallowed ground that you and I save saved over the years.

In honor of all that Ed has done to help save our nation’s history, please to sign your name as a “Citizen Co-Sponsor” on the copy of Congressman Connolly’s legislation announcing his nomination, H.R. 2059. It will be delivered to Congress so that they can see your full support for Ed’s well-deserved Gold Medal.

I could fill up another few pages talking about the important history of the hallowed ground that you will be helping to save and Chickamauga and Chattanooga, but this letter is already getting long. I encourage you to go to our website for much more information on this effort:

One final word before I let you go, on why the work that you and I are doing is so very important: Did you see the recent news story that announced only 18% of eighth grade students scored “proficient or higher” in U.S. History?

When more than 4 out of every 5 students are at risk of graduating into the world without a basic knowledge of our nation’s history and its heroes, that tells me that our work – being the leading force in the fight to save these crucial outdoor classrooms – might just be some of the most important work being done in America today. And if you and I don’t do it now, when those future generations who DO care about history want to visit a battlefield in the future, they’ll be gone. Paved over and destroyed.

Your gift today will help ensure that the stories of heroes North and South – as well as those from our own time like Ed Bearss – are never forgotten.

I hope you will agree… that is a vitally important thing for us to do.

Please let me hear back from you as soon as possible with your urgent gift to help me raise the $120,500 we need to secure $570,500 in matching funds and save this land forever. Thank you very much for all that you are doing to save our nation’s crucial Civil War heritage.

Very sincerely yours,

Jim Lighthizer

P.S. I hope you are proud of all you are accomplishing in this great and urgent mission to save our Civil War history. I know that the Civil War Trust could not exist without you, and I am so thankful for any support you can give today. I am honored to be your humble servant in this noble cause. Thank you once again. 

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